ESPN's Monday Night Football hit a season-low in the ratings last night despite the halftime debut of the much-anticipated new trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Reviews of the actual game have been largely negative (especially if you're a Bears fan), but the trailer has gotten a glowing reception from Star Wars fans, who will be hard at work for some time dissecting the roughly 2-minute clip in search of clues.
The first hint that ESPN and its parent company Disney meant to hook up for a primetime Last Jedi trailer release came weeks ago when Mark Hamill himself tweeted that fans should be on the look-out for something special on October 9th (the tweet was quickly deleted). Despite director Rian Johnson warning fans to stay away from the trailer and its potential spoilers, the expectation was that MNF would receive at least somewhat of a ratings bump from Star Wars fans enduring two quarters of NFL football in order to be among the first to witness the new clip when it finally debuted at halftime.
Unfortunately for ESPN, it doesn't appear the expected ratings bump ever materialized. According to Deadline, last night's Monday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears finished with a 7.0 rating in metered markets, tying the second game of MNF's season-opening doubleheader as the lowest-rated telecast of the year. Last night's game was down a whopping 17% from last Monday night's game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. However, the rating was up 8% from last year's week 5 match-up between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In this case at least, awkward cross-promotion doesn't appear to have worked out very well. Star Wars fans apparently didn't feel the pressing need to subject themselves to football just to see a trailer they knew would be put up on the internet within minutes of its television debut. Any Star Wars fans who did bite the bullet and watch the first half were treated to an ugly slog of a game that featured a ton of penalties, almost no offense and the sad spectacle of Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford attempting to play on a bad knee before mercifully getting pulled (even Snoke wouldn't make a quarterback play hurt the way Mike Zimmer forced Bradford to stay out there despite being as immobile as Han Solo frozen in carbonite).
News of low ratings for last night's MNF will no doubt feed into the narrative being sold by some that both the NFL and ESPN are being hurt by all the controversies about their employees engaging in overtly political acts both on the field and on social media. It's likely however that last night's ratings had less to do with fans being fed up with players kneeling during the anthem and more to do with a match-up between a pair of teams that lack star power and are not particularly attractive to national audiences. Additionally, the MLB playoffs are in full swing, which probably took some of the audience for MNF away. The New York Yankees (arguably baseball's most recognizable team) were playing against the Cleveland Indians at the same time Bears-Vikings was going on.
Aware that Vikings-Bears might not be a great Monday Night Football draw, ESPN and Disney tried goosing their ratings by mixing in some Star Wars: The Last Jedi hype. The ploy looks like it failed, but at least most people agree the trailer is pretty cool.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018